A shilling is a coin used as money in the United Kingdom between the 16th century and 1990. A shilling was one-twentieth of a pound. A dozen pence made up one shilling. Since one pence was not very much money, the coins were common and circulated widely. As a result, few people thought to preserve high-grade examples of old shillings. Ironically, this originally inexpensive coin can be quite valuable today if it is in excellent condition and scarce.
Shillings varied slightly in size, weight and purity through the centuries. Most are 24 mm in diameter and weigh 5.7 g. Shillings were made of 92.5% silver until 1816, and 50% silver between 1816 and 1947. After that, all the silver was removed and shillings were made from cupronickel. Shillings have the profile of the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom on the obverse and their coat of arms on the reverse. The only exception was Oliver Cromwell, who was Lord Protector.
In general, the older a shilling is the more it is worth. The year the shilling was minted usually appears on the reverse of the coin. The first two numbers in the year are to the left of the coat of arms and the last two numbers in the year are to the right of the coat of arms. If you have a shilling that has no date or the date is in Roman numerals, it is from the 16th century and quite valuable. Shillings minted after 1947 contain no silver, so have no bullion value. Shillings minted before 1947 contain varying amounts of silver, so have value in their metal and as coins.
The monarch on the obverse of a shilling is a good indicator of what the coin might be worth. Shillings were not made every year and sometimes very few coins were minted with a particular die. This resulted in some shillings becoming quite rare and valuable. British monarchs on the shilling in order of appearance are: Edward VI, Mary, Elizabeth I, James I, Charles I, Oliver Cromwell (Lord Protector), Charles II, James II, William III, Mary II, Anne, George I, George II, George III, George IV, William IV, Victoria, Edward VII, George V, George VI, and Elizabeth II.
The switch to decimalization marked the demise of the shilling. In 1971, the United Kingdom made 100 new pence equal one pound instead of the old system that had 240 pence to the pound. The shilling became worth 5 new pence. They continued to circulate until 1990 when they were officially withdrawn. Many collectors are nostalgic for the shilling. They are a favorite of collectors because they are relatively inexpensive and come in many varieties.
A shilling coin's worth depends on its popularity, rarity and condition. The more collectors want a particular shilling coin, the more they are willing to pay for it. The number of shillings minted in a particular year or with a particular die is the best indicator of its rarity. All shillings are worth more if they are in better condition. Uncirculated shillings fetch the highest price. For a list of shilling values, see the link provided below in the Resources section.
Kent Ninomiya is a veteran journalist with over 23 years experience as a television news anchor, reporter and managing editor. He traveled to more than 100 countries on all seven continents, including Antarctica. Ninomiya holds a Bachelor of Arts in social sciences with emphasis in history, political science and mass communications from the University of California at Berkeley.